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Paper maps are shown the door in GPS era

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Of the more than 35 million Americans expected to travel by car this Fourth of July, a good chunk will probably reach for technology before they're tempted to unfold -- and in a tradition that used to bind Americans as tightly as a highway cloverleaf, try to refold -- a paper road map.

Websites like MapQuest and Google Maps simplified trip planning. Affordable GPS devices and built-in navigation on smartphones downright transformed it -- and transportation agencies around the country are noticing, printing fewer maps to cut department costs or just acknowledging that public demand is down.

The drop in sales began around 2003, when affordable GPS units became the go-to Christmas present, said Pat Carrier, former owner of a travel bookstore in Cambridge, Mass.

"Suddenly, everyone was buying a Garmin or a TomTom," he said. "That's the year I thought, 'Oh, it's finally happened.' "

Transportation departments around the country are in the middle of readjusting their spending amid times of falling revenue, and paper maps could be on the chopping block, said Bob Cullen, spokesman for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

In Georgia, officials are printing about 1.6 million maps to cover a two-year period -- less than half of what they were printing a decade ago. In Pennsylvania, where officials say public demand has gone down, about 750,000 maps are being printed -- way down from more than 3 million in 2000.

Officials in Oklahoma and Ohio also say map printing is down, and Washington state discontinued them altogether by 2009 because of budget shortfalls.

But in other states, printing has remained steady because maps remain popular at visiting centers. Officials in Connecticut, Mississippi and Nebraska say printing has remained the same.

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